Burmese Tea Leaf Salad With William Lue

Hello folks! Long time no post.  By my count it’s been about six months since my last entry and this time I really don’t have a good excuse for the long gap.  Ok, we did have a second kid back in April.  Does that count as a huge time suck? I’d say it does.   Allow me to make this a parenting blog for a minute. One kid: totally manageable – actually really fun especially as she gets older, more independent and comes into her own eccentric and goofy personality and allows each of the parents some much needed “me” time or even “us” time (date night, ya’ll!).  Two kids: forget it.  And an infant? Forget it even more – which you will with all the sleep you’re not getting. Gone are the days of two on one, tag-team parenting.  Now it’s one-on-one all the time and it’s not even fair. The three year old now has mad trantrum skills and the baby, well she’s a freakin’ baby whose cries can shatter the strongest of wills.  They. Are. Kicking. Our. Ass.  So long story short, I blame the kids for the lapse in deliciousting posts.  Well, it’s not all bad. After all, the new one can be pretty sweet:

We call her Momo because she’s such a little dumpling. Ok, ending parent blog now.

Back in August, our good friends from NYC, Donna and Anthony came to visit us in Oakland with their two kids.  A little back story on D & A:  they’re the ones I hold responsible – I mean to whom I’m forever grateful – for introducing me to Shef, my wife in life and food.  I’ll try to be brief. I met Donna a long time ago through a mutual friend in California.  Later, at the wedding of that mutual friend, I met Anthony, Donna’s date. This was a ten years ago. I was just about to move to NYC so I was glad to befriend Donna and Ant who proved to be welcoming and warm when I did land in NYC a month or two later.  Fast forward eight or nine months.  Summer in NYC.  I found myself happily single.  D & A (who at the time lived in Manhattan) invited me to this Hawaiian picnic in Central Park.  A friend of theirs had invited them  Now, Donna is somebody who always has a plan. And this occasion was no exception. She had also invited her good friend, Shefali, also single and ready to enjoy the summer, if you catch my drift.  And all credit to Donna and her machinations, this is where it all started.  Okay, if I was going to be 100% honest this was the second time we’d met. The first time we crossed paths was about six months prior, and let’s just say I wasn’t in the right head space to notice her charms – her charms at that point consisted of a lot of snot because she had head cold if I recall.  So for the sake of a good story, let’s count that Hawaiian picnic in Central Park as the starting point.  I was waiting for D & A at the entrance near Columbus circle when I spied this really cute -nay,  hot young woman walk by and enter the park.  Donna and Ant arrived a short time later and I walked into the park with them. As we approached the picnic, the woman whom I’d noticed earlier approached them and gave them each a hug. Stoked! “Do you remember Shefali?” asked Donna.  “Um, yeah…”  Though honestly, I had not recognized her from six months before, (like I said I was a little oblivious at the time and she was really snotty, so that first impression was obviously not so meaningful).  On this occasion, I was checked in and checking her out. Needless to say, I was bowled over by her beauty and sparkling personality.  But equally if not more importantly, I was impressed with her ability to eat. She was all about attacking the mountain of food that people had brought, going back for second helpings, thirds, fourths, etc.  I was like “who is this girl?” So, I got her number, followed up and the end, as they say, is history.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s a photo of that fateful meeting:

Meeting and eating. This is where I met my future wife. I knew girl who liked spam musubi was the one for me.

Meeting and eating. Me holding up the spam musubi. Anthony in the middle and Shef looking funny.

Alright back to the original reason for this post.  Donna and Ant were visiting us here in Oakland (already been two years since we moved from BK!) with their two kids. Yup, we’re all grown up now – kind of. We needed to eat dinner. I’d been hearing great things about this Burmese grocery store (?) near our house that also served really authentic Burmese food.  What?! I did a little internet research, because I’m resourceful like that.  I found out the place was actually a fully functional Burmese restaurant called Grocery Cafe because it occupied an old corner grocery store on a residential street in Oakland’s working class Highland neighborhood.  That’s the cool thing about Oakland. Smack dab in in the middle of these unassuming and unpolished residential neighborhoods you can find these gems like Champa Gardens or Vientien Cafe. It had been well reviewed by locals and the local weekly. Good enough for us.  We called and ordered about five dishes which comprised most of the small menu. Ant and I headed over to pick up the food. Sure enough, it was an old corner store with a make-shift kitchen separated from the front of the house by one of those refrigerated display cases that might have contained old macaroni salad and deli meats back in the day. Now it housed stacks of containers of homemade spicy Burmese pickles. The front of the house was a mish mash of second hand tables (like dining room tables you’d find at Goodwill)  and most of the seats were old church pews.  This was my kind of place. As we waited for the food we struck up a conversation with Mr. William Lue, the owner proprietor and some time chef of the Grocery Cafe. It turns out he’s been in the Burmese restaurant game for a good 30 plus years and has had a hand in running or cooking for many of the more well known and well heeled Burmese spots in the SF Bay Area.  Currently, he’s running a few Burmese spots in the East and North Bay, but the Grocery Cafe is his baby. Soft spoken, but with a deep resonant voice, Mr. Lue was not shy about describing his ambitions for the restaurant.   But it was when he started talking about the different dishes he wanted to  serve, that his language became evocative and poetic.   After over thirty years in the restaurant business, his passion for and excitement about the possibilities of Burmese food – the different ingredients, the regional specialties, the traditional preparations – and introducing it to the masses are palpable. I thought it would be great to video him making one of those dishes.   A couple weeks later, I managed to carve out some time in his busy schedule to film him for about an hour before he opened for business.  In the interest of time, I had him prepare the ever popular Burmese tea leaf salad.  I don’t know if it’s something the lay person could necessarily throw together, unless said lay person has their own vat of seasoned and fermented green tea leaves. But it’s a great example of how simple ingredients can combine to produce really complex flavors and textures.  As prepared by Mr. Lue, it’s delicious – as was all the other food we ate with D&A.  Please enjoy.

 

FacebookTumblrStumbleUponRedditLinkedInShare

Thanksgiving, 2013!

The family's all here and ready to eat.

The family’s all here and ready to eat.

A couple weeks ago, Shefali, Kaya and I had the good fortune to spend Thanksgiving with my parents, my sister and her family and Shefali’s mother and sister.   This was our first Thanksgiving since we moved back the West Coast, so it was a real treat to be able to spend it with both sides of our families.  In addition, our good friends, Simon and Jen and their kids, and PK (and his two crutches) also joined us for what proved to be a delicious and nutritious (calories are nutritious right?) feast.

As usual, we spent several hours preparing and cooking the requisite T-Day food – stuffing (sausage stuffing from me, oyster stuffing from my mom), turkey (grilled in record time on the Weber by my dad), mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts (prepared by Cameron and Cheryl) and three different desserts (apple galette and cheesecake from Jen, pumpkin pie from Shef).  Also as usual, the eating/ inhaling food part took all of about 15 minutes and left us all slouched uncomfortably in a haze of culinary  excess. Another year and another successful Thanksgiving.  But don’t just take my word for it.  Watch the two part documentary masterpiece which so compellingly captures our Thanksgiving, 2013!

FacebookTumblrStumbleUponRedditLinkedInShare

Manu’s Handmade Pasta

This is how you roll it...

This is how you roll it…

A couple months ago, Shef, K and I made the momentous move back from Brooklyn, NY to the Brooklyn of the Bay Area aka Oakland, CA.  At least that’s the comparison made by NYC- centric foks.  I’ll be honest.  There’s a fair smattering of hipsters and quite a healthy foodie scene here but I would say that’s a national trend and not just a Brooklyn thing.  Anyway,  a few weeks in, to help ease us into West Coast living, our good friends Matt (whom you might remember from such hits at sourdough baby, wood oven pizza and belated Chinese New Year) and Arlie invited some of their good friends (Manu, Simba, Cree and Dan) over to our place for some dinner.  But these weren’t just any friends and this wasn’t just some dinner.  The guest of honor (or rather chef of honor) was Manu who, being Italian, brought with her the requisite skills of making pasta – by hand.  See, in my limited world view, all Italians know how to make pasta, just like all Chinese people know how to fold dumplings. Thankfully in this case, my ridiculous cultural expectations proved correct because Manu brought with her some real knowledge and skills.  In fact, she instructed us in the production of TWO types of pasta: orecchiette and pici.

Both pastas are so simple to make and when cooked are exponentially better than dried pasta.  Now, I understand why the term al dente (to the teeth) has been used to describe the way pasta should be cooked. There’s something about the fresh, hand worked dough, the thicker noodle and shorter boiling time that results in pasta that has that balanced, dense, springy but totally cooked texture.  It has real substance. It  requires you to actually pause and chew so you can really appreciate the pasta, the sauce, the company around you and the witty conversation that erupts between bites. No wonder the slow food movement started in Italy.  Part of that slowness must surely have to do with  the preparation.  Making pasta by hand -especially by amateur hand –  is a rather labor intensive process so it was great to have friends over who could throw down like they were in the old country. The next night when I made the orecchiette and pici by myself with the leftover dough, it took a lot longer. But again, the end product was ridiculously good. Now, I’m not tooting my own horn. I’m tooting the horn of homemade pasta. Hallelujah!

Made all of these "little ears" with my own hands.

Made all of these “little ears” with my own hands.

Here’s Manu’s recipe for the orecchiette:
semolina flour
water
that’s it!

And here are the ingredients for the sauce she made for the orecchiette (quantities are dependent on how much pasta you’re cooking):
broccoli, kale (though if you can find it you should use rapini or broccoli rabe)
garlic
chili
Italian sausage
salt
pepper
olive oil

And this is how she does it:

Here’s Manu’s recipe for the pici:
2 parts white all purpose flour
1 part semolina
pinch of salt
water
that’s it!

And here’s Manu’s recipe for the sauce she made for the pici:
ripe tomatoes
1 green tomato for extra acidity
garlic
olive oil
salt
bread crumbs fried in olive oil

And here’s how she does it.

FacebookTumblrStumbleUponRedditLinkedInShare

Jason’s Mom’s Jook

Hi all! Long time, no blog (as usual). Alright, let me cut to the chase: jook, aka congee   = Chinese soul food. It doesn’t get any more basic than this: water + rice.  The thick rice porridge provides a blank canvas upon which other ingredients – 1000 year old eggs and salted pork (my personal favorite), fish and lettuce, dried scallops and peanuts, etc- can be applied, so in the end you can have an endless variety of delicious tableaus and landscapes.  For me, it’s comfort food, plain and simple.  I crave it when I’m under the weather, when I’m homesick, and when I just want to eat something I know is going to be absolutely satisfying to my body and soul.  My mom used to make it when I was a kid and I remember the way the whole kitchen would steam up and smell of cooking rice. When I visit my grandmother in Hong Kong, the first meal we have together is at a nearby jook joint.  Quite simply,  jook tastes of home and family.

But because jook is so basic and near and dear to my heart, it never occurred to me to post a recipe of it.  Enter my friend Jason. Thankfully, he filmed his mom making her version of jook and was kind enough to let me post it here.  Not only does her version look delicious but watching the video I was also glad to see the special place the dish occupies in her family. That’s how soul food is: universal but also entirely personal.

Alright, enough from me. Here’s Jason:

Last week, my wonderful mom came over to teach us the steps to making her version of congee.  I grew up calling this Chinese porridge “jook” but have recently learned the new name as it is served every day at my Grandma’s nursing center.

The day of this shoot, we had a surprise visit from her brother, Ben Fong-Torres, and his wife.  This put my mom and her brother at the stove together–a sight I had never seen before.  This must have brought back memories for them as they grew up in the family restaurant together helping their father.

I am proud to present our third cooking video: Mom Makes Congee.  I have been so lucky to grow up with my mother’s version of this dish in my life and hope you find time to make it for a loved one.  Enjoy!

-Jason

FacebookTumblrStumbleUponRedditLinkedInShare

Thai Cooking Made Easy! (Well, as experienced in a touristy cooking class…)

Along with cooking we also learned how to carve these carrots out of flowers.  Can you tell which one is Shefali's and which one is mine? (hint: mine looks like it was carved using a knife and not teeth)

Along with cooking we also learned how to carve these carrots out of flowers. Can you tell which one is Shefali’s and which one is mine? (hint: mine looks like it was carved using a knife and not my teeth)

I’m sure if you saw the previous post about pad thai, you’re aware of how highly I regard Thai food, both for its preparation and its dynamic flavors. Also, I’m a fan of employing badly shot vacation video from almost two years ago to give the few lucky readers of this blog an opportunity to savor more Thai food and watch Shefali and I stumble through the preparation of some basic Thai dishes.  You see, the summer before last, before Kaya and her voracious appetite made themselves known – actually, I think Shef was in the early stages of pregnancy with K (aka “The Eater”) – we were fortunate to find ourselves in Chiang Mai, Thailand, recuperating from our trip to India.  Believe me, Northern Thailand is the place to go for relaxing and eating.  As full fledged tourists, we enrolled in a one day cooking class at the Siam Rice Thai Cookery School. Now, I fancy myself as somewhat knowledgeable about food and the way its prepared – Asian food in particular. Oh, I don’t know, maybe because I’m ASIAN? Sheeit! So I didn’t know how much I’d really get out of this class. Well, feed me some humble pie, because I got a whole lot of spicy goodness out of it. It was great!  The recipes were obviously dumbed down for farang students, but what really came through (bubbled up to the surface as it were) was the importance of using the freshest ingredients and cooking things quickly and with the intensity of high eat to seal in flavors. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but some of dishes I cooked in this class, I’d consider among the best Thai food I’ve eaten.  So without further ado, please enjoy these two videos which chronicle both our trip to the market and our cooking class. Please enjoy!

Part 1

Part 2

FacebookTumblrStumbleUponRedditLinkedInShare